Battling Mental Illness One Song At A Time
It's like a secret you keep stashed away in a tiny box in the back of your closet. Maybe you've fought depression your whole life, maybe you fight anxiety or thoughts of suicide, but most of the time many people try to battle it alone.
One Montana musician, who is originally from the Hi-Line, Plentywood to be exact, decided he wanted to do something about mental illness. He battled his own illness and thought that maybe he could do some good to speak out about his experience and let people know they're not alone.
"Mental illness is not a choice," Jason DeShaw said during an interview. "We don't decide we want to go through hell. There's this stigma with both mental illness and addiction."
DeShaw had been a country singer for over a decade and found success during his career. But things started to get a little tougher in 2010. DeShaw explained both in his interview and at his concert that was free to the public in Glasgow on Thursday, April 23 that his thoughts were like a freight train trying to get out. He drank to try to treat an ailment that he wasn't quite sure was there.
As he was in his late 20's when the symptoms started to take hold, his show promoter knew something wasn't quite right. The promoter called DeShaw's family and they drove him from Canada to Billings. He was hospitalized and later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and with an alcoholism addiction. He said that he knew something was wrong, but it was a big relief to have a name, a diagnosis, for what he was going through.
During his concert he explained that he would go into manias where he'd have bursts of energy, starting new businesses, traveling and making quick decisions that didn't always make sense. He said that more than anything the bouts of depression still make a big impact on his life and dealing with medications has been a journey all on its own.
"I still battle depressions, and those hurt my career, because you take me from work, to a guy who can make it from a bed to a rocking chair," DeShaw said.
During his performance he explained that losing a friend to suicide in September is where his idea to have an tour focusing on mental illness came. He said it was a shock to lose his friend in such a way. He walked into a gun store, bought a gun and 45 minutes later he was dead.
"It rocked my world losing him," he said. "Montana leads the nation in suicide rates."
He added that over 90 percent of people lost to mental illness, usually were lost to suicide. DeShaw added that addiction usually comes with mental illness, as those who have problems seeks something to try to self medicate.
He was nervous coming out with his mental illness. But decided that he wanted to make an impact on those out there who also battled mental illness. A Blue Cross Blue Shield representative at the concert explained that they were proud to sponsor the event because mental health is a part of wellness and should be considered as part of total health. DeShaw made the move to get them to sponsor the concert series that traveled the state by walking into the headquarters in Helena. He told concert goers that they sponsored the event so that the public could attend for free.
When asked about how the tour was going, he said he hoped he could at least help one person. He said that one young man had already messaged him on Facebook and said that he had no hope until he went to his presentation.
"That was worth the whole damn tour, that one kid," DeShaw said.
He said he felt humbled to be a part of something bigger than himself and hoped that talking about his experiences, even making a few jokes about his experiences was something to help people understand that mental health is something that touches everyone in one way or another. He said that the society is affected by mental health problems and that if people focused on the humanity and not the mental illness they could help others.
"You can not, not, be affected," he said. "We're all in this together and there is hope."
He said it felt good to make it back to the east side of the state, but it was almost a surreal experience to make it closer to friends and family that knew him. He said it would be difficult to expose himself, and that maybe they'll see he's only human.
"Stigma is just a softer word for discrimination," he said both during his interview and at his concert.
His songs his presentation were written during times of struggle for him, or they were songs that struck a chord with his mental illness, making a few references to Johnny Cash and having the audience join in at the end to "Ring of Fire."
If you, or anyone is struggling with mental illness you can find resources and help at Montana's Peer Network at mtpeernetwork.org, or call 406-551-1058, or call the crisis line at 1-800-273-8255. You can also reach the Montana Warm Line at 1-877-688-3377, or Mental Health America Montana at 406-587-7774. Other resources can be found at nami.org.